Considering how God-awful short our growing season is on the Front Range, maximizing our growing spaces is an absolute must to reap any type of respectable harvest from our backyard farms. Succession planting is one of the best methods for getting the most from our gardens, something I frankly suck at.
Last year I tried in complete earnest to plant my garden in succession, and I did a lousy job of it. What tripped me up was the myriad of variables to keep track of: What plants grow in the cool or warm season, what plants work well with a specific companion plant, what you can’t plant in a particular spot because another plant that doesn’t play well with others was recently planted in that location, and the list goes on and on. I became overwhelmed with details and eventually gave up, resorting to filling in vacancies where I could and keeping my fingers crossed that I hadn’t really messed up plant neighbor-relationships. I planted and harvested all the while thinking “There must be a better way.” And indeed there is.
Let me introduce to you the Mother Earth News Garden Planner. This on-line garden planner has flexibility, functionality, and it is fun to use. The garden planner allows for nearly any size or shape garden, and allows for the representation of other structures on the landscape. There are crop categories to narrow your searches, and the overall presentation is beautiful. I had so much fun planning my gardens for next year I was nearly late to a party that I look forward to all year. Here’s the breakdown:
- You can download the garden planner and try it out for free for 30 days.
- Easy to use interface to design your garden – drawing tools, plant selections, dimensional background grid, Square Foot Gardening mode, color and shape selection, and a text tool.
- Plant list – the plant list is tailored to your zip code and tells you when to plant, how to plant (start indoors or sow outside), and the season extent of each plant. Pretty makes takes the guess work out it.
- Detailed information about each plant – this includes plant family, companion recommendations, light requirements, soil requirements, troubleshooting, and more.
- Ability to change your garden month by month – here’s the real juice for this program. In my design I actually have three sets of gardens in the profile, based on the growing seasons. My spring garden is different from my summer garden, which is different from my fall garden (see slideshow below). I can click on any given month and the garden planner will display the plants intended to be in the garden at that time. In other words, my succession planting is laid out visually for me, and all I have to do is click a button to see what’s coming up.
- Limited crop selection – I found some crops to be delightfully obscure, while other mainstays seemed to be missing. Perhaps in time Mother Earth News will add to the list of available plants. They do provide generic plants that you can label and insert into your plan, but of course there is no data associated with the plants you add.
- No conversion to estimated yields based on the plan you design – this would be easy enough for the program to calculate, but it does not seem to be a feature that is currently offered.
And the Ugly
- It is time consuming to build your designs – it took me several hours to build my garden designs for the year, but honestly I was so enthralled I didn’t really notice.
- It costs moolah – the online Garden Planner costs $25 per year, or $40 for two years. It is worth it to me; having detailed files on what was planted in each location each year helps me rotate my plants the following year. But for some folks a well-organized garden journal would have the same benefit – I am just clearly not that organized.
There is one additional resource I would recommend to you when planning your garden this year, and that is the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens planting timeline. This timeline is recommended for the Front Range and specifies raised bed planting. It is a great resource when trying to figure out the precise planting time for vegetables here in our region.
For an inside look at the Garden Planner in action, check out the slide show below. I have circled the months in red to delineate between spring, summer, and fall gardens.
Do you have a best trick or tip for successful succession planting? We’d love to hear from you – you just might have the next BIG idea!